Unlike other countries like Singapore, where bicycles don’t need to be registered, owning a bike in Japan entails a far more detailed process than just paying the amount shown on the price tag.
Who can own bicycles in Japan?
As long as you have a registered address in Japan or a zairyu card (residence card), even if temporary or for a short-stay period, you can own a bike. Upon purchasing a new or used bike, you will need these for documentation or registration purposes. Other than those things, you’re good to go in accessing this essential transportation method. You can also opt for an even more temporary bike through rental services, which will be discussed later.
How and where to buy a bike in Japan
Buying a brand new bicycle in Japan is pretty straightforward if you get it from a shop. You pick out the bike that you want and inform the staff of your intent to purchase. They will also recommend the best bicycle for your height and riding lifestyle (whether for daily commute or off-road trekking).
You often have to present an ID and fill out a registration form called jitensha bouhan touroku. The registration form is submitted to the police for filing by the bike shop on your behalf. The staff gives you the original copy of the bike’s ownership form, a yellow sticker of registration which you put on the bike frame, the keys to the lock, and other forms such as discount coupons for future maintenance services. It costs about ¥500 to register a bicycle through a shop.
Your other option is to purchase one online from Amazon or Rakuten. This method is more convenient wherein you don’t need to browse and fill up forms, although you will still need to register your bike at the nearby police station. If you don’t get the yellow registration sticker, you will need to get one at the police station.
Then you have the second-hand option, which is equally popular in Japan given the rapid turnover of short-stay individuals. You can get terrific bike deals online through sites like the Facebook group Tokyo Sayonara Sale or Mottainai Japan. There are many of these groups in Facebook but I included some links to get you started. The first group is for buying and selling, while the latter is strictly for giving away so you can get your hands on some wheels for free!
You can even find some branded bicycles that would otherwise be sold for over ¥100,000 for far less. With some patient window shopping through the page listings, you can come home with a “new” pair of wheels at a fraction of the cost.
The only thing to consider with taking the second-hand approach is transferring the bike’s registration over to you. Those selling their bikes often mention in the listing if they can accompany you to the same bike shop or police station for the transfer. Otherwise, you will need to get the details from the owner and go through the process yourself.
Discarding a used bicycle in Japan
Now that we’ve covered how to buy and register a bicycle, let’s tackle disposing of the item, in case you’re planning to upgrade or let go of your bike.
I have a friend who wanted to get rid of his really old bicycle quickly and thought he could leave it in some deserted space in Tokyo (this approach is not advised). So, even though his bike is already considered trash, somehow, a few days later, the police came knocking on his door with his bicycle in tow.
There is a right way of disposing of a bicycle in Japan. They fall under the oversize trash or sodai gomi category, along with furniture. You can’t just dump a bike along with the weekly trash schedule, though. For this, you need to contact your municipality’s “Oversize Waste Reception Center” to arrange a special pickup service for a fee of about ¥800. You can find more details here.
Another option is to contact companies that get rid of bulky trash for you and are usually more foreigner-friendly because they can often speak English, unlike going through the municipal approach.
Of course, if your bike is still in good condition and you no longer need it, you can sell or give it away at the same Tokyo Sayonara Sale or Mottainai Japan Facebook pages.
Other ways to bike around Japan
You can also consider renting a bicycle instead of purchasing one, especially if you only need it occasionally. A lot of the train stations across Japan have a designated bike rental area where you can pay to use a bike for an hour (about ¥100-300), half a day (¥400-800), or a day (¥1,000-1,200).
Some companies, like Bike Share, offer monthly rentals for ¥2,200, giving you unlimited 30-minute trips within that period. If you’re taking a day tour and want to cover more sights, this is a great option to look into. A couple more popular rent-a-bike companies in Tokyo are Tokyo Bike Rental, or Cycle Trip, which specializes in sports bikes.
You might already be convinced to get a bike, whether brand new or pre-loved, given that cycling is a deeply rooted practice in Japanese culture. Plus, there’s no denying that having one just makes your stay so much more convenient. Hope this guide helped explain the where and how of getting a bicycle in Japan!